Learning languages

The Barcelona European Council called for action "to improve the mastery of basic skills, in particular by teaching at least two foreign languages from a very early age", and for an indicator of language competence. Ever since, the Commission has supported efforts to develop language learning policy and result indicators.

What is it about?

The Barcelona European Council called for action "to improve the mastery of basic skills, in particular by teaching at least two foreign languages from a very early age", and for an indicator of language competence. Ever since, the Commission has supported efforts to develop language learning policy and result indicators.

The 2011-12 EU survey on language skills (held in 14 EU countries) showed that:

  • 42% of 15 year-old pupils tested had attained "independent user "level (B1/B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) in their first foreign language
  • 25% had reached this level in a second foreign language
  • 14% of pupils lacked even a basic knowledge of one

In the 2014 Council Conclusions on multilingualism and the development of language competences, the EU countries made a strong commitment to improving the efficiency of language teaching in schools.

The 2018 Council Recommendation on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages outlines the current challenges and proposes an action plan aimed at:

  • boosting language learning by focusing on reaching specific competence levels, based on the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, by the end of compulsory education;
  • introducing the concept of language awareness in education and training, which provides an inclusive framework for language learning, taking the variety of learners' language competences into account;
  • ensuring that more language teachers benefit from opportunities to learn and study abroad;
  • identifying and promoting innovative, inclusive and multilingual pedagogies, using European tools and platforms such as the School Education Gateway and eTwinning

What has been done?

Between 2011 and 2013 the thematic working group on languages in education and training focused on possible ways of improving language learning outcomes. They conducted a comparative analysis, subsequently drawing up a report on innovative, scientifically proven methods of speeding up language learning. The report's two main topics are:

  • content and language integrated learning
  • computer-assisted language learning

The report includes findings from the ICT-Rev project on innovative methods in language teaching.

Efforts to improve language teaching must go hand in hand with efforts to develop modern methods of assessment. Many education systems lack such methods. The RELANG initiative focuses on assisting educational authorities in relating language examinations to the levels of proficiency defined in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The ability to communicate in several languages is among the key skills needed to meet labour market demands. Like other transferable skills, it makes both individuals and the economy more competitive. Building on the experience with the Common European Framework of References, language teaching experts have been taking part in the ET2020 working group since September 2014 and will help develop frameworks for digital and entrepreneurial skills.

The Erasmus+ programme offers new opportunities, such as policy experimentation and large-scale partnerships, to develop new strategies for language teaching and learning in multilingual classrooms.